UPDATED: JDRF, Pfizer seed diabetes startup
- Type 1 diabetes foundation JDRF, Pfizer and venture firm Orion Equity Partners have closed a $4 million Series A financing for biotech startup AnTolRx.
- Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, AnTolRx will focus on antigen-specific targeted nanoparticle tolerance therapeutics (TNTT) for treating autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. The biotech hops to create treatments that could stop the immune attack on beta cells in the pancreas.
- JDRF, which often supports initiatives for type 1 diabetes research, said this is its first investment to establish a company specifically for the development and commercialization of type 1 diabetes therapies.
This article was updated with comments from the CEO of AnTolRx.
Pfizer led the funding round for the young company and noted it has an exclusive option to license the type 1 diabetes candidate "upon achievement of certain milestones."
Investment like this from high-profile big pharmas are not typical. Oftentimes, big pharmas have an investment arm that will invest in early-stage technologies which could be of interest down the line. But few put money behind (and ink option agreements) with companies that don't yet have a pre-clinical candidate themselves — underscoring the strong interest by Pfizer in AnTolRx.
AnTolRx is based on the work of Francisco Quintana, a researcher from Brigham & Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who signed on as scientific founder. The company is helmed by business development veteran Mark Carthy, who previously did stints with Cubist Pharmaceuticals and Vertex Pharmaceuticals.
In November 2011, JDRF supported Quintana’s academic work with a $400,000 grant over two years supporting a project, ultimately leading to an invention licensed by AnTolRx from Partners Innovation, the technology transfer office of Mass General Hospital and Brigham & Women's Hospital. This underlying science formed the basis upon which the newly formed AnTolRx is based, said Michael Batten, JDRF director of strategic partnerships.
"The inventor, Dr. Quintana, is a real leader in the area of delivering tolerance therapies and had been collaborating with JDRF and Pfizer for some years," said Carthy to BioPharma Dive.
"It was time to take this technology out of the lab and into a company. It never would be able to move straight into Pfizer and needs some time to develop outside of the lab environment. A lot of technologies do great in the lab, but aren't quite up to big pharma scrutiny—this will allow that to happen," he added.
Carthy added that the company has been having an open dialogue with Pfizer and that the big pharma will continue to work closely to develop the technology. The CEO couldn't say for sure whether Pfizer will buy the company outright eventually, but didn't discount the possibility.
The startup currently has four full-time staffers and another four part-time. The money from the round is intended to build out the platform and find optimal candidates for type 1 diabetes. Carthy told BioPharma Dive AnTolRx hopes to have a preclinical candidate in two years.
- AnTolRx Press Release
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